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The Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial celebrates 100 years of keeping Native traditions alive

Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial featured poster for the upcoming centennial event.
Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial
Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial featured poster for the upcoming centennial event.

The Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial kicked off its 100th anniversary today. The event features music, powwows, parades, rodeo events, and much more. KUNM spoke with Kyle Tom, Navajo tribal member and president of the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Association who’s committed to honoring Native American heritage and culture. He says the event began in 1922 with traders who wanted to bring in tourists and showcase local tribes.

KYLE TOM: Nowadays, it's a colorful celebration and we feature so many of our dancers, we have local dignitaries, and then of course, you know, the Navajo Code Talkers are always a big hit, our ceremonial Queens are a big hit in the parade and then local tribal royalty will come in. So it's just a wonderful, wonderful cultural experience in itself the parades are and they trace back to just people coming into town so they bring their wagons and they camp out along the hills here in Gallup. And they trade various goods so, let's say some Navajos from the northern farming communities will bring some melons and squash and you know things are growing and they trade it for some corn for some Zuni oven bread or some Zuni jewelry. It's so cool how ceremonial lives up to the inter-tribal aspect of it.

KUNM: What does the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial mean to you?

TOM: I'm a rodeo announcer. I get to travel rodeos all over the country and this rodeo here I consider my baby because I took it over in about 2017. It's just grown, it's just so special to people, especially the fact that we were able to bring back things like the buffalo riding and the hide race. One of my favorites, the fry bread pan throwing contest. We went back into the ceremonial archives and we found back in the 1950s over at Lions Park, they would have an event where they threw a cast iron skillet, you know big old fry bread pan, and they throw it the furthest. And then you know the winner was the winner. So we brought that back a few years ago, it's a big hit. The cowboys love it, the cowgirls love it and the spectators love it.

KUNM: How has the ceremony highlighted its past traditions for the 100th anniversary?

TOM: We always like to look back with ceremonial, it's always about where we were, where we are today and of course where we're going. So we'd like to look back a lot and bring as much history back into modern day as we can. This year we're bringing back the Navajo chicken pull. It's an old event from pre-Long Walk days, you know, the early 1800s and kind of focused on the horsemanship skills of Navajo. And they'd ride and I remember my grandma used to tell me stories about when her and her sister would compete in the chicken pull, and how they would use a live chicken back in the day. Of course, we cannot get away with that today, nor would we want to. But nowadays we use a gunny sack and we fill it full of dirt or what have you. And then you have to bury it with about a four- to six-inch tail sticking out of the ground, riders will stay on their horse, try to ride by while their horses are moving, reach down from the top of the horse and grab that tail out of the ground. It's buried in the ground so it's not easy to come out and then you know about 10 or so cowboys and cowgirls will try to get that done. And then once it's out, you got to make a full lap and of course with the kind of money up for grabs, everybody's going to be trying to fight for that. So I've seen it a few times here and there over the years. It gets wild, it gets rowdy, it gets Western, it's entertaining. It's so cool to watch we're excited to have it this year only for the 100

KUNM: How important is it to showcase Native American heritage?

TOM: We want to present, to protect, and preserve the way we present Native American culture, we want it to be as accurate as possible. So when we reach out to these dance groups from the Pueblos, and the Apaches, the Aztec, the Kiowa Comanche, the Navajo, we want to make sure they're presenting their culture as they learned their culture as it was generations ago and they're doing the exact same dances their great-great-grandparents were doing in Gallup 100 years ago. We gotta uphold history, and we got to do it right and we're presenting our culture to the world, you know, we're not catering to them. We're not presenting it as entertainment. We're not selling out, if you will. We're presenting accurate depictions of Native American culture

KUNM: What do you want visitors to take away from this event?

TOM: There's a lot of misrepresentation for decades of Native American culture and if they can come here, and they can say, "Oh, okay, Navajos never lived in teepees. Okay I get that," and "Oh, they're not costumes, it's regalia." If people can come here and get educated of who Native Americans are and they really experience the difference in songs between Hopi and Isleta, you know what I mean, if they can get an understanding that Native Americans, we're not all the same, we all have our different tribes. So just the education part is what I would hope a lot of people take away from the ceremonial, especially because like I said, we really uphold ourselves to being culturally appropriate and accurate.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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